When Sermons (Don't) Make Sense

If you have ever sat on a beach in front of a calm ocean, you have maybe felt the soothing effect of the rhythm of the waves. They build, crash, wash up on shore, and return, over and over. This pattern of the ocean is peaceful. It is perfect for clearing your mind or thinking about a future sermon series. 

If you've experienced the rhythm of the ocean on a clear day, you know the difference a storm makes. When a storm brews the coast loses its rhythm. The pattern of waves building, crashing, washing, and returning turns into a barrage of waves moving different directions, white water clouding the ocean, and waves even moving backwards. The ocean is just a barrage of random waves. 

Sermons should be similar to the coast on a calm day. They should have a rhythm for listeners to track, arrange, and understand as a whole. Sermons are not meant to be made up of a barrage of ideas with little connection. "If a preacher does not provide a unifying concept for a message, listeners will. They instinctively will supply a thought peg on which to hang the preacher's ideas, knowing that if they do not, they will retain nothing" (Bryan Chapell). Listeners need to be given a way to arrange all the thoughts and ideas of a sermon to know what the sermon is about as a whole.

Most sermons contain multiple main- and sub-ideas. Whether these ideas are main-points or main-steps in an argument, they can often be understood on their own. But when they are put together to create a sermon they must be understood together; they must have a clear connection.

"God is gracious."

"Adam and Eve sinned."

"Jesus rose from death."

"We are sinful."

"Jesus died." 

"Jesus loves you."

When a preacher does not structure his sermon to make sense as a whole, it feels like that. Each of the above points makes sense on its own. But as you were reading you were automatically trying to find a rhythm and connection. You maybe saw a general idea, but you wanted more. Why are the above 6 ideas addressed as a whole? If this were a sermon, there would be no clear way for listeners to arrange the 6 points to create a particular message. 

When a preacher feels confident in his ability to stand in front of a congregation and explain the Bible, he may have a tendency to preach a barrage of ideas. This is because it is easy to feel the sermon is complete once you know how to talk about the biblical content. The problem is that without structure, from beginning to end, not much is remembered. "In the course of an hour (if you're lucky) facts are delivered, but no one remembers them or why they are worth remembering" (Byron Yawn).

Imagine rearranging your favorite movie to be completely random. Each scene could be understood by itself. You might learn characters' names and even pieces of what could be a plot. But when watched in random sequence the movie is frustrating and makes no sense. With each passing minute things get more confusing, not less. Movie-goers break a sweat figuring out the director's plot.

Structure your sermon so that listeners understand not only what you are saying but why you are saying it. Make it clear, from the macro perspective of your sermon, why you moved from talking about single moms having a tough job to talking about teaching your kids the Bible. Ask questions like, "Will a listener understand why I started with this story? Will a listener understand why I am covering these 3 points?" When you can answer those kinds of questions with "Yes", you might be read to preach that sermon!

We will address specific ways to structure a sermon so that listeners can follow it in the near future.